As drug prices keep rising, patients are turning to unconventional routes to purchase their medication. However, those who sell and distribute medications without a license are doing it illegally….and putting the buyer at risk.
A new study in JAMA looked at the illegal sales of drugs such as insulin, albuterol, and epinephrine (EpiPen) and found multiple ads placed during a 12 day period in June 2019 on Craigslist. The medications that treat diabetes, asthma and anaphylaxis respectively are life saving medications which have unfortunately skyrocketed in price over the last 10 years.
Craigslist is a popular website that allows millions of people to post classified ads, ranging anywhere from job opportunities, to services, to goods and products, to items wanted.
Study authors write:
Reports in the lay press suggest that patients who cannot afford prescription medications seek out discounted products in online marketplaces such as Craigslist.1 The unregulated sale and purchase of prescription medication is prohibited by law and Craigslist policy.2–4
Many of the drugs sold could be surplus, as the seller may have had a recent medication switch by their provider. Others may have been prescriptions obtained and sold for a profit.
Study authors found the albuterol, asthma inhalers to be sold higher than prescription cost, but many of the insulin products were at a discount.
Sellers can get away with the higher prices as buyers may feel the are saving money overall by not going into a medical clinic to obtain the prescription.
However, medications not sold by a pharmacy could carry risks. If opened they could be contaminated. If it’s an insulin product, the pen or vial needs to be refrigerated before use, or in a climate that doesn’t exceed room temperature depending on the manufacturer’s warning. One cannot assume the storage and distribution of the medication was done properly.
Hence if a buyer is an insulin dependent diabetic they may be purchasing less than optimal potency of their life saving medication. The same holds true with an albuterol inhaler used during as asthmatic attack or an EpiPen used during severe allergic reactions.
Medical providers are urging patients to not seek discounted products online when it comes to their disease management but instead to reach out to them or the pharmacy for generic alternatives and pharmaceutical company discounts.